Temples of Kerala Ep.1

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Spiritual experience in Hinduism is multi-dimensional. And the beauty of it is that it resides in the beholders mind. One dimension of this its spatial experience in a temple premise. A devotee who has been to the temples of India will understand it. The moments from Gopura till front of the Sreekovil sparks all the senses. Where your cerebral experience turns to a visceral experience. No word or explanation can bring that in words. It must be experienced. In that view you may agree and disagree with Karl Marx when he said, “Die Religion … ist das Opium des Volkes”. Loosely translated as Religion is the Opium of masses.

Spatial experience and rituals are a symbiotic dance in Indian temples. And just like any other region of India, Kerala has its uniqueness. A glimpse of the south Indian temples will strike how Kerala offers its uniqueness in comparison to other regions. Aspects like sloping roofs, mix of Folk and Vedic traditions, Small or rare Gopuras in comparison to Dravidian styles, rare presence of Koshta sculptures and Antharalas. Shiva temples of Kerala not allowing full Pradhakshina. Classical theatre structure inside the temple premises called Koothambalam.  And many more. A lot of this has to do with the geography, rituals, and evolution of Kerala.

History and evolution of Kerala Temples

According to Archaeological survey of India the beginnings of Kerla temples are dated to the early part of 9th century. There hasn’t been evidences of Structural temples earlier than 6th Century. But the earlier worshiping traditions is the Kaavu (Sacred Grove) tradition. This tradition still has high prominence till date. Predominantly Nagas or other guardian deities of a family or the village are represented here. Explaining this tradition itself is a chapter of its own. Which will be elaborated later in this series. Along with Kaavu other earlier traditions are cave temples around Ernakulam, Kollam, Vizhinjam and Kaviyoor.

Coming forward to the 9th Century the structural temples began to be formed which started in the Dravidian style. And then gradually it evolved to the styles we see today. A historical importance of these structural temples were revelations of the evolution of the Malayalam script. These epigraphical records also opened our eyes to the contributions of the Chera and Kulasekhara dynasties into Kerala social life.

The textual references that offered the rituals and technological foundations of Kerala temples came from predominantly texts of Tantrasamuchaya (for rituals) and Silparatna, Kuzhikatt Paccha Padayaur Bhasha etc. for the wider architectural concepts. Along with the foundations of Vaasthushastra and Thachu shastra (Science of Carpentry). And we should also remember that the raw material that were locally available in this geography plays a role in the uniqueness in Kerala temples. That is the wood and type of stones.  Mainly Teak, Jack and Aini wood along with Laterite and other stones from the Western Ghats. A lot of structural influences are also picked up from the earlier Jain and Buddhist, like the elaborate outer scaffolding of lamps called Vilakkumaatam or Deepamala. And the Archways or Thoranams seen during occasions.

A lot to unpack as you see. So, in the next chapter of this series lets see the various components of Kerala Temples and their interesting facts.  


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